The 442d Regimental Combat Team (RCT), which was largely made up of Japanese-American soldiers, was the most decorated American unit of its size in World War II. One of the lesser known units that comprised the 442d RCT was the 232d Engineer Combat Company, which included seven officers and 204 enlisted men, and had the unique distinction of being the only company in the U.S Army made up entirely of Japanese-American officers and men.
The 232d was activated on 7 February 1943 at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and commanded by CPT Pershing Nakada, whose father had served as an orderly for GEN John J. Pershing in World War I. The 232d was trained in the tasks generally assigned to combat engineer units: building and demolishing bridges, building and repairing roads, laying and clearing mine fields, and infantry tactics to defend positions.
After basic training, the 232d arrived in Italy with the 442d RCT on 28 May 1944 and was placed under the command of the 34th Infantry Division. In July, the 232d was called upon to remove mines that the Germans had laid to cover the approaches to the hilltop town of Luciana. Working with elements of the 34th Infantry Division’s 109th Engineer Combat Battalion, the 232d worked under sniper and artillery fire to accomplish their mission.
On 1 August, the 232d was involved in a tragic accident during a training demonstration with the 109th Engineer Battalion. A crate of TNT exploded in a truck filled with mines, killing nine, including two from the 232d.
In late August, as Allied troops prepared to cross the Arno River and establish bridgeheads on the other side, the 232d reconnoitered the Arno crossings and found that they would have to clear hundreds of mines and mark off others before the crossings could begin. After troops crossed and secured the bridgeheads, the 232d and other engineer units constructed bridges so tanks and artillery could be brought up to support the advancing troops.
In early September 1944, the 442d was reassigned to the Seventh Army in France. The RCT landed at Marseilles, France, on 30 September, just as the Seventh Army’s advance up the Rhone River Valley had begun to stall.
During the fighting around Bruyeres, the 232d faced their most extensive test to date. In addition to clearing mines, the company removed numerous roadblocks set up by the enemy, and kept the roads open for supplies to continue on to the front. On 18-19 October, the 232d destroyed two massive concrete roadblocks in Bruyeres. The blasts took out the town’s remaining windows that artillery fire had not destroyed.
In late October, the 232d was attached to the 111th Engineer Combat Battalion, 36th Infantry Division. From 23 October to 11 November 1944, the two units were called upon to build a supply road out of a mountain trail which rose 1,000 feet off the floor of the Laveline-Coriceaux Valley in support of the 36th Division’s attack through the Foret Dominiale de Champ near Bruyeres. The engineers, working behind the assault elements, labored to build and maintain the road. Artillery fire, mines, and enemy snipers, in addition to almost continuous rain and snow, made the task even more difficult. Yet the engineers’ actions kept open a constant flow of supplies to reach the attacking forces while allowing the uninterrupted evacuation of casualties. For their actions, the 232d received its first Distinguished Unit Citation.
From the end of November 1944 through March 1945, the 442d remained in the Maritime Alps along the Franco-Italian border. In mid-March, the 442d returned to Italy as part of the Fifth Army and placed under operational control of the 92d Infantry Division. From 5 to 14 April 1945, in addition to conducting its usual activities of clearing mines and keeping roads open, the 232d and the 442d Infantry captured the town of Carrara and the surrounding heights, opening the way to La Spezia and Genoa. The two units also made a diversionary attack along the Ligurian coast, allowing the Fifth Army to break through to Bologna and the Po River Valley. The 232d suffered several casualties during this period, including CPT Nakada, who was wounded. For their actions from 5-14 April, the 232d earned a second Distinguished Unit Citation.
The war ended for the 232d on 2 May 1945 when German forces in Italy surrendered. In all, the 232d participated in four campaigns, and earned two Distinguished Unit Citations and large numbers of individual awards, including over 100 Purple Hearts.
After performing occupation duty, the 232d was inactivated on 31 January 1946 in Italy. Between 1946 and 1968, the 232d was reactivated and inactivated several times. In 1954, the company was redesignated the 232d Engineer Company. On 26 August1 1968, the 232d was inactivated at Fort Benning, Georgia, and currently remains inactive.
© The Army Historical Foundation